Nearly everyone feels down at one point or another. But when feelings of sadness stretch on and are accompanied by other symptoms, normal sadness might have given way to depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate depression affects one in 10 American adults at different levels, while Statistics Canada says around five percent of Canadians have reported symptoms that meet the criteria for a mood disorder, including depression.
Many sufferers of depression believe it is a personal weakness and something they should be able to control, but mood disorders are recognized mental illnesses that say nothing about a person’s strength of character. Often brought on unexpectedly, mood disorders like depression cannot be traced to a single root cause. Many within the medical community believe depression is genetic. Doctors treating patients for depression often discover a history of depression among their patients’ immediate family members.
Many different genes may act in combination to cause a mood disorder. In 2011, a British team isolated a gene that appears to be prevalent in families in which multiple members suffer from depression. The chromosome, 3p25-26, was found in more than 800 families with recurrent depression. External factors also can play a role in the onset of depression.
According to the CDC, certain groups are more likely to meet criteria for depression than others. These include women, people ages 45-64, African-Americans, Hispanics, and people with less than a high school education.
There are unique symptoms associated with depression. Not every person with this mood disorder will exhibit each and every symptom, but the following symptoms appearing together is often an indicator of depression:
- feelings of sadness and loss
- feelings of irritability
- loss of pleasure in usually enjoyed activities
- changes in sleeping patterns, such as insomnia or sleeping too much
- difficulty concentrating
- frequent headaches
- noticeable lack of motivation
- anxiety and panic attacks
- withdrawal from friends and family
- inability to make decisions
- recurring thoughts of suicide or self-harm
People exhibiting symptoms of depression should first reach out to their primary care physicians, who can begin a preliminary diagnosis and look for symptoms indicative of depression. A doctor also can perform blood work to rule out other conditions that may be contributing to problems with mood, such as hormonal changes or illnesses.
Some doctors may refer patients to a mental health professional who is much more qualified to treat mood disorders. A mental health professional will likely conduct an interview with the patient and pay considerable attention to the patient’s medical history. Gaining a stronger grasp of a patient’s symptoms enables doctors to prescribe the most effective courses of treatment.
Treatments range from medication to talk therapy to cognitive-behavioral therapy. Those who do not respond to more conventional treatments can discuss further options with their doctors.
Patients who are prescribed an antidepressant medication should expect several weeks to pass before the medication is fully effective. Antidepressants are not universally effective, and people being treated for depression or another mood disorder should not grow discouraged if one course of treatment is ineffective. Many treatment options are available to people with mood disorders.
Those who think they may be suffering from depression should first remember that they are not alone. Millions of people have depression at points in their lives or may experience recurrences of the condition. Visiting a doctor promptly can help sufferers of mood disorders address their conditions more quickly.